Meet Mark Cullen

Canada's best known gardening personality, Mark Cullen believes that Canadians of all ages need to play more - preferably in the dirt. A best-selling author with over 400,000 books in print, Mark reaches over one million Canadians every week through various media outlets. He is Home Hardware's horticultural spokesperson and regularly contributes to various magazines, gardening shows and newsletters. With a familiar style that people can relate to, he delivers a message that is compelling, fun, informative and inspirational - all based on his organic approach to gardening. In his spare time Mark enjoys driving his Ford Model A - and of course he loves to garden.

Help Plants Deal with the Heat

~ July 4, 2012

As we roll into summer, Mother Nature sure isn't easing her way in. With two heat waves under our belts, I think it's safe to say that this summer is going to be a hot one. And just as you feel the heat, so too do your plants.

Watering is an important part of gardening and when the skies don't provide enough; it is up to you to fill the gaps. Here are some tips to help you (and your plants) get through the dry times.

1. When watering, don't just wet the top. In order to promote the growth of deep roots, your plants will need a substantial amount of watering. As the water soaks deeper into the soil, the roots will grow to seek it out.

2. Let the soil dry out before watering. In combination with the first tip, this will encourage the growth of deep roots and help the plant tolerate drier periods for longer.

3. Don't water in the heat of the day. If you're out there at 2pm trying to water those tomatoes, chances are, you're losing a significant amount to evaporation before the water even has a chance to reach the roots. Go for an early morning watering trip around your house and avoid the blazing sun.

4. Finally, don't waste water. It's a precious resource and the last thing we want to do is waste it. There are several Mark's Choice products available to ensure your water is being delivered where it is needed most. Try the Flat Weeper Hose or the Soaker Hose to deliver the water at the root zone. If you're watering by hand, try the Jet Shower Watering Wand for water that is gentle on your plants. And most importantly, get yourself a rain barrel so that when it does finally rain (and it will), you can collect this valuable resource and have it when you need it most.

So while you're cooling off in the pool, remember that your plants will enjoy the same benefits from the water as you will.

Succession Planting

~ June 27, 2012

As we move towards the end of June, there are still some planting tasks that can be undertaken in the vegetable garden. In order to keep the delicious fresh fruits and vegetables coming throughout the summer, you can employ 'succession planting.' There are two main ways to do this depending on the crop.

First, if you have planted something with a short harvest time (like radishes - about 45 days), you can plant something completely different in its place once you have harvested. I've harvested my first radish crop and a few heads of lettuce. In their place, I've planted a crop of green and yellow beans.

Second, you can plant a few of the same thing every week for three or four weeks. Onions and carrots are great for this. I started my onions at one end of the row way back in April and every week I planted a few more. Last week I pulled my first few green onions and I will continue to get a few every week until the end of summer.

There are many benefits to succession planting beyond the obvious benefit to you when you can harvest fresh veggies all summer long. Think, for example, about the soil. Vegetables take a lot of nutrients from it in order to grow - but not every vegetable needs these nutrients in the same ratios. Since radishes require minimal nutrients, the beans sown in their place will have adequate amounts left. As well, the soil will be turned when the second crop is planted allowing oxygen and nutrients to mix through the soil. Finally, if you have a smaller vegetable garden, succession planting allows you to enjoy a variety of fresh vegetables (if you're replanting with a new type of veggie).

So next time you're out in the vegetable garden, think about succession planting. Simply keep in mind harvest times so the cold winter months don't swoop in before you can pick your crop.

Summer Lawn Care Tips

~ June 20, 2012

As the heat of summer hits home it is time to review Summer Lawn Care Tips:

- Water the lawn early in the morning. Watering in the heat of the day will result in moisture loss through evaporation.

- It is best to water your lawn infrequently and deeply. Rather than watering a little each day it is more beneficial to the root structure of your lawn to water deeply (1") once a week.

- Practice 'grass-cycling' and leave grass clippings on the lawn. Clippings will return nutrients to the soil and help retain moisture in the lawn. Better yet - use a mulching attachment on your lawn mower.

- Reduce the amount of foot traffic on the lawn during periods of drought.

- Raise the cutting height of your lawn mower to 2 1/2 or 3 inches to avoid stressing the grass. Longer grass will provide shade to the roots and reduce water loss from the soil.

- Sharpen lawn mower blades so the grass will be cut cleanly, not torn.

Decide whether you will allow your lawn to go dormant during periods of drought. Unless you experience a prolonged drought, your lawn will come back and green-up once the weather cools off.

Invest in a Mark's Choice rain barrel [I have 4 working for me right now!], available at Home Hardware, to collect valuable rain water. I use it to water all of my container plants and newly planted plants in the garden. Water collected in a rain barrel will not be as cold as tap water and will not shock plants when applied during hot conditions. Heat seeking plants like impatiens and tomatoes love it!

Father's Day is June 17

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Do you find it a challenge to choose the right gift for your father each year? Let me suggest that you consider the Mark's Choice line of cutting tools. I am really excited about this line of ‘best quality’, Canadian made loppers, shears and pruning saws.

I have chosen Canadian -made tools for their outstanding quality and durability. The Mark's Choice Bow Saw is balanced to reduce fatigue (especially in your forearms!). It melts green wood without binding, twisting and cuts effectively on both the back stroke and fore stroke. It’s a lot quieter and safer to use than a chain saw too!

My hedge shears keep an edge for a long time due to the high carbon steel and Teflon coating on the blades. They have extendable handles that hold sure and firm under pressure. Years of pruning experience have taught me that a good pair of tree loppers must feel good and confident in your hands. They must hold an edge - and be made of the very best steel. The ratcheting mechanism should stand the pressures of cutting through substantial limbs without jamming or twisting. And finally, extendable handles provide access to branches that otherwise may be out of reach.

These tools have set industry standards for quality and performance. Visit your local Home Hardware store to try these tools and pick one up for Father's Day while you're there.

Planting Basics

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The first step in choosing new plants is to choose the proper location based on the amount of sunlight your garden bed receives. Once you have determined which plants are appropriate for the sun/shade of your garden you can move on to preparing the soil. I recommend that you mix triple mix into the garden soil. Triple mix contains equal portions of composted manure, peat and loam. Spread the triple mix 2 inches (5 cm) deep over your entire garden bed and either dig it in by turning it over or leave it there for the earth worms to do the job (Which will take 6 to 8 weeks but is really quite effective).

The organic ingredients in triple mix enrich the soil with nutrients and boost microbial activity. If your garden soil is heavy clay you can amend the soil with organic matter and sharp sand. A yearly application will help break up the clay soil and improve drainage and aeration.

Now it is time to set your plants in the ground. This should be done as soon as possible when you bring the plants home. Place your plants in the ground at the same soil level as was in the container. Fill in around the root ball with your freshly amended soil and press the soil firmly around the root mass. Water in each plant well to settle the soil and make sure there are no air pockets around the roots. New plantings are dependent on you for moisture until they are established and can seek out their own moisture. For perennials and hardy shrubs water at least once per week for the first growing season. If you experience long periods of dry weather water more often.

Reduce maintenance by fertilizing with SMARTCOTE® Feed & Forget. This is an excellent controlled release fertilizer which provides nutrients to the plant over the entire growing season. Nutrient release is dependent on the available moisture in the soil and the temperature. Every time you water your plants, or it rains, SMARTCOTE® will release nutrients to the root zone of your plants. As the soil temperature rises the nutrients are released more quickly for optimal plant growth.

How to Shop at the Garden Center

~ May 30, 2012

When you visit the garden center it can often be overwhelming. I am often approached by gardeners asking me ‘where to start’. I offer this information to help point you in the right direction.

1. Good value does not always equal the lowest price. While there is a lot to be said for sale prices on most anything that you buy retail keep in mind that buying plants is unlike most other items that you put in your grocery cart. Plants are living things. A great looking plant is not pot bound, leggy, has yellowing leaves or is necessarily in full bloom. It IS young, roots only fill ½ of the container, stocky and always green. And not necessarily in full bloom.

2. Labelling pays for itself. During this, one of the busiest times of the year at garden retailers, it is not always easy to get answers from a sales person to your gardening questions. For this reason accurate picture labels are worth their weight. A good label is printed in Canada and is appropriate for our growing zone, includes a picture and detailed cultural information. It is also a handy reference placed next to your new plant in the garden.

3. Roots do not encircle the inside of the container. Young, white fibrous roots are ready to take off in your garden. These roots must make a home in your soil before the top part of the plant can thrive. It is o.k. to turn a plant upside down while at the garden centre, gently remove it from the pot and inspect it. If the roots circle the inside wall of the pot or cell pack put it back and look for a younger, perhaps less impressive looking specimen.

4. Full bloom is not always a good thing. It takes energy for a plant to produce a bloom. It is, after all, an effort on the part of the plant to attract pollinators (not buyers) and to reproduce. A great garden performer will have much more green growth on it than blooms. The power reserved in the roots will be there when you most want it to push the blooms to max while planted in your garden over the next month or two, rather than on the retailers shelf.

5. Wet. The hallmark of a good plant retailer is one that pays close attention to the maintenance of the plants that they sell. Many mass merchant retailers fall down in this department, allowing plants to become dry after they are received at the store. A plant that dries out excessively 'hardens off', reducing the vigor that it had when it left the green house. Avoid buying plants that are 'light weight' [dry] as they may just collapse on you before you get home. Buy wet plants.

Growing in Containers

~ May 23, 2012

I have a way to cut your watering down by up to one half this summer. Water Wicks are a great product in the Mark’s Choice line up that I am very excited about. Each ‘Water Wick’ tea bag absorbs up to 400 times its’ weight in water.

When you prepare a hole for planting, drop a pre-moistened Water Wick tea bag into the bottom of the hole and place the plant directly on top of it. Firm the soil around the plant as per usual. Now, as the soil dries out the plant will draw moisture from the Water Wick. When you water your plants the Water Wick is automatically recharged with water.

The results are that you will water much less and your plants will become deeply rooted in their search for water at the bottom of the planting hole.

How do we know these work? We tested them ourselves. But not until the Ontario Flower Growers applied them to over one million potted plants that were shipped to retailers across the country. The Water Wick concept was such a hit that reforestation projects are now using them when planting tree seedlings. We (Home Hardware and I) have the exclusive use of the product in the retail market.

Give them a try and let me know what you think. I have used them in the veggie garden, under newly planted perennials and in containers with great success.

Water Wicks are made in Canada and are a 100% Canadian concept!

More information visit

What's New with Mark's Choice - Part 2

~ May 16, 2012

Last week I introduced you to some of the new items in the Mark’s Choice product line. This week we will look at some great new Canadian-made, solid cedar items for your yard.

Woodpecker Feeder – This feeder with double reinforced mesh sides and cedar ends with feeding holes is sure to be a woodpecker favourite. Fill with nuts and enjoy the show!

Butterfly Habitat – If you plant flowers to attract butterflies then you need to provide them with a home. Place a small branch in the house to provide a perch and place this house in your flower bed.

Mason Bee House – Mason bees are solitary, non-aggressive insects that can be observed at close proximity. Supplying them nesting sites in the holes of this untreated cedar house can be an educational and fun activity for the entire family.

Bird Suet Plug Feeder – Enjoy this attractive, high-quality cedar suet feeder that is durable and weather resistant. Fill with easy to handle, no mess suet plugs.

This year I am excited to introduce the Mark’s Choice line of Premium Vegetable Seeds. These 12 varieties have been selected for: garden fresh flavour, ease of growing in Canadian conditions, and overall garden performance.

I have grown these seeds and presented the harvest at our table. I believe that you will equally enjoy the experience of growing AND eating these vegetables.

Varieties: Bush Green Bean, Bush Yellow Bean, Kestrel Hybrid Beet, Juno Hybrid Carrot, Fanfare Hybrid Cucumber, Red Lettuce, Leaf Lettuce, Mesclun Mix, Early Frost Pea, Samich Hybrid Spinach, Yellow Zucchini squash, Blue Spice Basil

What's New with Mark's Choice

~ May 9, 2012

The Mark’s Choice product research team thoroughly reviews and tests new products, one at a time. Before a product is approved to carry the Mark’s Choice name, it must meet very stringent criteria.

• Does it succeed in fulfilling a specific need for the Canadian home gardener?

• Is it tough enough to stand up to commercial grade use?

• Is it manufactured with the highest standard of materials?

• Will it perform a unique function and assist Canadian gardeners in creating a great looking lawn and garden?

The answers must always be ‘YES’. I believe that every Mark’s Choice product will help you to succeed in your garden. I would not put my name on them if I did not believe this.

New for 2012

Firefighter’s Nozzle – The new Mark’s Choice Firefighter’s Nozzle is fun to use. The adjustment is finely tuned to mist new seedling AND it can blast water up to 23 feet (7 metres), plus everything in between. The quality is superior to anything I have ever used, and I believe it will help you grow a better garden.  Home Hardware item# 5042-512.

Floa Constrictor – Provides the convenience of controlling water pressure virtually anywhere on your hose, eliminating trips back and forth to the tap. Adjustable to any hose size, you can easily irrigate exactly where you want, when you want, without wasting water. Simply place sprinkler in position, then snap the Floa Constrictor onto the hose in view of the sprinkler head. Close the valve tightly. Turn on the tap, and slowly open the valve on the Floa Constrictor until the correct water flow is achieved.  Home Hardware item# 5042-960.

Mark Cullen Edition Golfgreen Lawn Fertilizer – Exclusive to Home Hardware, this new formula of Golfgreen lawn fertilizer will produce a thicker, greener lawn for a longer greening period. The slow-release ingredient feeds your lawn when the rain falls, temperatures rise, and microbial activity in the soil takes place. It works when your lawn needs it the most, and gives your lawn what it craves the most. I only use Golfgreen fertilizer on my lawn. Special note: When you purchase a 12kg bag (or two 6kg bags) of Mark Culleh Edition Golfgreen at Home Hardware you will receive a complimentary copy of my new book Canadian Lawn & Garden Secrets.  Home Hardware item# 5024-503 (12kg) and 5024-502 (6kg).

Next week: more new products in the Mark's Choice line up.

Attracting Wildlife to Your Garden

~ May 2, 2012

Attracting wildlife to your yard is one of the great benefits of gardening – you just want to ensure that you are attracting the right kinds!

While we all garden for our own personal reasons, everyone loves hummingbirds, songbirds, and butterflies.

My new butterfly house provides the perfect environment for butterflies to nest, pupate, and morph, out of the reach of predators.

Attracting mason bees to your garden is ideal because they are very effective pollinators. They nest in 3/8” (1cm) tubes like those found in the new Mark’s Choice mason bee house. All you do is mount if out of the wind and clean it out with a drill once a year.

When planning your garden be sure to incorporate as many plants that attract desirable wildlife to your yard as possible. Many native plants like Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) and Rudebeckia (Black eyed Susan) attract butterflies and songbirds. A hummingbird magnet is Monarda (Bee Balm).
Keep in mind that all of our flying friends enjoy still water for drinking and bathing, a protected place to perch, and many enjoy the addition of feeding station in your yard.